Thursday, February 18, 2010

How a Story Unfolds on Campus

A few weeks ago, my daughter, Jessie Assimon, and a colleague attempted to drop off copies of Jerk Magazine, an award-winning student publication that Jessie currently edits, at Syracuse University's Graham dining hall. Most of the student publications -- and there are a lot of them because of SU's outstanding S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications -- are distributed at the dining halls, dorms, and other heavily-trafficked locations on campus.

But not anymore.

A Graham employee who doesn't like Jerk's content told the students that he didn't want the magazines in his facility. What followed is well reported by the school's newspaper, The Daily Orange, and its TV station, Citrus TV. The outcome? The university is enforcing a "policy" that hasn't been published or shared with the magazines before: Student publications can't be distributed at campus dining halls. It doesn't matter that magazine staffers -- including at least one faculty advisor -- didn't know about the policy. It doesn't matter that the magazines have been distributed in dining halls for years. It doesn't matter that a major university with one of the top journalism schools in the country has made a decision that doesn't seem to support freedom of speech rights.

It's interesting to see how a small event -- a foodservice employee blocked distribution of a student publication at a dining hall -- snowballed into a big campus story involving faculty, staff, administration, and students. It wouldn't surprise me if the resulting policy changes (they don't say they're changes, but they are...) help this story get some attention off-campus, too.

Monday, February 15, 2010

How to Learn More About Publicity

How do you learn how to be your own publicist? Good books, courses, and workshops are helpful and I recommend them. But I also suggest using Google and Twitter alerts to learn more about specific publicity topics. It's like having a crash course delivered to your inbox on an ongoing basis.

Alerts for carefully-chosen keywords used in Twitter tweets or anywhere on the Web (delivered via Google alerts) will help you find the many educational, instructive blog postings with the information you need. But it won't always come to you exactly when you need it -- that's what a good in-the-moment Google search is for.

Google and Twitter alerts serve many other purposes -- they can be your online clipping services, too -- but you can't beat them for providing "here's-how-to-do-it" information from some of the top experts in any field. Twitter, in particular, is an essential component of my ongoing professional development. It not only helps me learn -- it helps introduce me to the people who truly know what they're talking about on a specific subject. These people might then agree to write an article for my book publicity e-zine, do an educational teleseminar, or be a guest blogger here.

I offer free instructions on how to set up Google and Twitter alerts available for download here; it's not hard and you'll be ready to roll in minutes. The hardest part is figuring out which terms to use -- and the terms you're searching for should change over time. For example, you might set alerts for "social media release," "press release tips," or "how to pitch" but cancel those once you feel you have learned as much as you need on that subject. From there, you might set alerts for "press release distribution." (You'll note that these all make good Google search engine terms when you add "how to" to your search phrase, if you need the information now.)

  • Authors: try "social networking authors" or "book publicity"
  • Small business owners: try "small business publicity" or "solo publicity"
  • Nonprofits: try "nonprofit publicity tips" or "charity publicity tips"

Play around with your alert terms -- if you get too many, make adjustments. If you get too few, try something else. Other people know more about how to generate the perfect search term than I do (and if you're reading this, I'd love it if you'd share them). I find that just giving it my best shot and then tinkering gives me all the alerts I need to stay informed.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Creating Your Own Brand

What can help you stand out as you're promoting your product, service, cause, book, or issue? Brand consultant and author Martin Lindstrom (Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy) recently explained how to create a personal brand on The Today Show. His goal was to help jobhunters, but it got me thinking about how it might apply to my situation as a small business owner, and, in turn, how it might help the authors, business owners, and nonprofit leaders I try to help through this blog. During the interview, he was talking about defining an individual's brand, but his advice can apply to companies and organizations, too.

Here are this five tips:
  1. Define who you are and aren't. I think this is the hardest for most people because it requires focus. It forces us to ask, "What do I want to be known for?" Then ask, "What am I probably known for right now?" I am somebody who does her best in any given situation. When I turn in a writing assignment, it's as good as I can make it. When I teach a publicity workshop, you're getting everything I can possibly offer in the timeframe allotted. But who is this important to -- me, or my clients? I should find out. More importantly, though: Who are you?
  2. Become well-known for one thing. Again, it's about focus. You can't be all things to all people, so learn what's most important to your target customer and decide if that's what you can deliver.
  3. Create an air of mystery. In the publicity business, you can do this by consistently delivering top quality results and not yakking the whole time about how you did it. When I was doing PR work for clients, they used to ask me where I kept my fairydust. Now that I share my "secrets" through workshops, it's a little harder to be mysterious.... But how can you do this in your own business? I think that concept of being good at what you do but not talking about how hard or how easy it is makes for a good first step.
  4. Create a signature look. My "signature look" is not wearing sweatpants to the supermarket so I should probably spend a little time on this one. Lindstrom's signature look is black clothes -- an approach shared by actor/singer Mandy Patinkin, who once commented that he always wears a black t-shirt and pants when he performs because he doesn't have to worry about what matches. Your signature look should align with client or customer expectations.
  5. Leave a personal mark behind. What can you leave with people that helps them remember you after you're gone? If you use a business card, it should be atypical -- something that stands out and is relevant to your personal brand. For some it could be good advice, for others, it might be a free sample. Be creative with this one.
Going through this process -- addressing these five points -- is an interesting exercise. I don't have all the answers for myself yet, but I will soon, because I think Lindstrom's advice is solid and relevant to my business. Have you done something like this already? What was the result?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Developing a Multimedia Publicity Plan

Business writer Randy Hecht recently interviewed me about online press rooms and social media releases for AT&T's "Real Marketing Solutions" small business newsletter. Her article is concise, clear, and helpful. If you're working to understand ...
  • How to reach your target audience through the press
  • What differentiates a social media press release from a traditional press release
  • How to create an online press room
... you'll want to read the article. Download and save Shift Communications' social media press release template, too. It will give you a headstart.

How are you using social media releases?

Monday, February 1, 2010

How to Be Found

How do you make sure customers and prospects will find you in a competitive marketplace? I used to think the marketers at Wegmans, one of the best supermarket chains in the country, had that figured out.

But that was before I saw the full-page ad for the chain's liquor store, Century Pittsford Wines, in Saturday's daily newspaper.

The ad tells us that the store, which is about a year old, is ditching the daily newspaper in favor of e-mailed ads. As my cousin Nancy used to say when we were kids, "Icky doo."

Here are four reasons why this is both disappointing and unwise.
  1. I already get way too much e-mail. In fact, I made a conscious effort already this year to unsubscribe from as many lists as possible. I'm trying to cut down on the inbox clutter not add to it. And do I want to get e-mail that reminds me that I have a vice (merlot...)? I think not.
  2. This strategy assumes people know the store exists. You aren't going to get people to your Web site to sign up for e-mail messages if they've never heard of your business.
  3. Many of us cluster our errands geographically. I can get my groceries, buy my wine, fill up my car, and get my tall-extra-hot-skinny-vanilla-latte at Starbucks all in one block just a mile from my home on a Saturday afternoon. I'm not going to remember that I can do much of that five miles away in Pittsford and take advantage of the good prices at Century Wines because I don't even remember to stop for gas half the time. Unless...unless...I see the store's full-page ad in my Saturday morning paper and I'm reminded that the prices are lower there. I have to be reminded. (And see point # 1 about e-mail reminders.)
  4. Daily newspapers across the country are suffering. Ours is no different. It needs advertising support to survive. Withdrawing this weekly ad feels like a betrayal to my newspaper. Based here in the Rochester, NY, area, Wegmans is an exceptional corporate citizen. The philanthropy coming out of that company is remarkable. I see the newspaper ads as an extension of that community service. But I also think they're necessary for marketing purposes.

You need to stay top of mind with your customers, especially if you're in retail. Remind me, remind me, remind me -- and then remind me again. And remind me on my terms, not yours. You can't convert me from my preferred reminder system -- that weekly Saturday morning ad -- to yours -- e-mail. It just doesn't work that way. Before making this kind of change, be certain you know how your customers want to hear from you -- and then listen to what they tell you.